Factory workers, employers deadlocked on wage hike 

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Bereng Mpaki

FACTORY workers and their employers are deadlocked on the rate by which their 2022/23 wages should be adjusted.

Through their trade unions, the workers have asked for a 20 percent wage increase across the board. However, the employers are only offering a three percent increase for the textiles sector and four percent increase for the rest of other sectors like construction, leather, wholesale, food and retail, among others.

The minimum wage standard is determined by the Ministry of Labour and Employment, through recommendations of the Wages Advisory Board (WAB).

The WAB is made up of workers, their representatives, employers and government representatives. It sits annually to determine the minimum wage adjustment for various private sector employees considered vulnerable.

In the case of a deadlock, the Labour and Employment Minister, Moshe Leoma, must intervene and determine the rates after consulting the public.

United Textile Employees (UNITE) secretary general, Solong Senohe, this week said they were awaiting the ministry to publish its proposed minimum wage rate for the public to comment on.

“At the moment, the minimum wage negotiations are deadlocked. We want 20 percent increments across the board while employers are offering only three and four percent for textile factories and other sectors respectively,” Mr Senohe said.

“We are now waiting for the labour minister to publish a gazette on the proposed minimum wage increase for the public to comment on,” he said.

On his part, Labour ministry spokesperson, Tumisang Mokoai, said the WAB was yet to advise the minister on the deadlock.

“The WAB is still working on the 2022/23 minimum wage and is yet to advise the minister on any deadlock. The minister will follow due processes once the deadlock has been communicated to him by the board,” Mr Mokoai said.

The factory workers were given a 14 percent hike while other sectors got a nine percent increase in the 2021/22 financial year.

The increases came on the back of a spirited strike action by factory workers from 10 May 2021 to 7 June 2021 to press for the wage adjustments.

The workers said they needed increments to help them cope with the sharp increase in the cost of living. The strike was triggered by the government’s delay in intervening and proposing a new minimum wage structure after the employers and workers had deadlocked.

The workers were similarly demanding a 20 percent increase while the other sectors wanted a 17 percent increase for the 2021/22 financial year. The employers were, however, only prepared to offer a maximum hike of six percent.

The workers were also demanding the retrospective awarding of the increases for the 2020/21 financial year which had stalled. That year, the workers had demanded a 20 percent hike while the employers were only prepared to give them a seven percent increase. The government intervened with a 5, 5 percent increment proposal and the talks collapsed.

In the protracted industrial action, two workers died in clashes with the police and the army; while shops were looted and vandalised by angry workers in the Thetsane area.

The striking workers belonged to unions including the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL); National Clothing, Textile and Allied Workers Union, (NACTWU), United Textile Employees (UNITE), Lentsoe La Sechaba Workers Union and Lesotho Workers Association (LEWA), among others.

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